Evolving Auckland

Many maps and plans of Central Auckland have been drawn and published since the 1840s. The first and most well-known was drawn by Surveyor-General, Felton Mathew, for Governor Hobson and published in 1841. Mathew’s design was best known as ‘the cobweb plan’ because it envisaged a circular Trafalgar Circus (where the university is today) with radiating quadrants and a crescent connecting with Upper Queen Street. Mathew’s plan was thought impractical by many influential settlers so was eventually shelved. The only echo of Mathew’s plan that survives today is Waterloo Quadrant (originally to have been named London Quadrant – but now not even actually a quadrant) and which runs between Old Government House and the High Court.

Felton Mathew. Original Plan of Auckland. 1841. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, NZ Map 2664. 

One hundred years later a town planning model was created of the Auckland CBD, probably from an aerial photograph taken in 1939.  Possibly this was done as part of New Zealand’s centennial celebrations in 1940.  Lisa Truttman of Timespanner has suggested the model might have been made in 1971 which was Auckland City Council’s centenary; but if so why choose to use a photo taken in 1939?

Currently this model is able to be viewed on Level 24 of Auckland Council’s Auckland House in Albert Street, where The Spinoff found it recently and took some stunning photographs.

At the top left of the model is the intersection of Wakefield Street and Queen Street, with upper Hobson Street and St Matthew’s Church at top right.  The left boundary of the model is Prince’s Street and the large green area is Albert Park.  On the right-hand side the model’s boundary is Nelson Street, which joins Fanshawe Street and Sturdee Street at bottom right.  In those days the Central Auckland Library was still on the opposite side of Wellesley Street sharing space with the art gallery.  Downtown, the wharves are from left: Marsden Wharf, Captain Cook Wharf, Queen's Wharf, the ferry wharf, Prince's Wharf and Hobson Wharf.

From various maps and plans drawn between 1840 and 1950 we are able to see how central Auckland changed over that time.  One of the first panoramas of central Auckland is an 1876 print by W.C. Wilson which shows Old St Paul’s Church and Fort Britomart on Point Britomart.  Excavation work has already started to remove the fort and the point.

W.C. Wilson. A bird's eye map of the Waitemata Harbour showing Point Britomart and St Paul's Church. 1876. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-8489.

Another part of Wilson’s 1876 panorama shows another harbour view looking towards Auckland Central.  It features the waterfront with numerous boats in the foreground.  Queen's Wharf is shown at bottom right with Queen Street running up through the centre of the picture.

W.C. Wilson. The Waitemata Harbour showing Queen's Wharf and Queen Street. 1876. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-8488.

An early mid-town map of central Auckland in the 1870s was produced by the Auckland Improvement Commission in 1873 showing their plan of proposed alterations to the city.  This shows changes to be made to central Auckland with the disestablishment of the Albert Barracks, and the addition proposed new streets and more sections for sale on Symonds Street.

Auckland Improvement Commission. Plan of proposed alterations in the City of Auckland. 1873. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, NZ Map 3532.

In 1886 George Treacy Stevens produced a different perspective of Auckland, when he drew a birds’ eye panorama of central Auckland from a balloon floating one thousand feet above and one hundred feet to the rear (most exact – his balloon was probably attached to a balloonists’ wagon!) of Auckland Hospital.  Albert Park is the large green square in the centre of the picture.

George Treacy Stevens. Birds-eye view of Auckland City. 1886.  Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-C1880.

Wilson’s 1876 waterfront panorama is our earliest harbour view showing some of Auckland’s first wharves and jetties.  There are numerous boats in the harbour.  Mechanics Bay is on the left, then Official Bay and Point Britomart.  Queen's Wharf is in the centre and Freemans Bay in the right midground.  Auckland City is in the background with Mount Eden on the horizon line of the picture.

W.C. Wilson. Bird's eye view map of the Waitemata Harbour looking towards Auckland Central. 1876. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-8484.

The next map, which dates from about 1910, is an Auckland Harbour Board plan of wharves, berths and sheds on the Queen Street Wharf, Railway Wharf, Hobson Street Wharf and Quay Street jetties.

Auckland Harbour Board. Wharves, Berths and Sheds. Around 1910. Sir George Grey Special Collections, 4-179B.

However in 1913 the Auckland Harbour Board planned to make improvements to their water frontage.  Over the next several years more wharves were built and their layout was redesigned to cope with larger modern cargo ships.

Auckland Harbour Board. Improvements to water frontage. 1913. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-178.

Our last map is from about 1948 and shows central Auckland and the wharves.  It is part of a large cadastral map series of Auckland City published between 1947 and 1953.  The map also has streets and public buildings such as schools, churches, hospitals etc. This sheet shows part of the central city, the waterfront, Parnell and the Domain.

Auckland City Council. Sheet 5A of a large cadastral map of Auckland City. 1947-53. Sir George Grey Special Collections, NZ Map 3508.
Many of the maps featured here were digitised with the aid of the Auckland Library Heritage Trust.

Author: Christopher Paxton, Heritage


  1. Hi, I was looking at your interesting Evolving Auckland piece on the Heritage et al blog and you mention the 1939 central city model. Lisa Truttman mentioned the possibility of it being from 1971 (it isn’t) but interestingly there is another model in existence from that period. I first saw it in the mid to late 1980s when it was located on an upper floor of the town hall from memory. Planners used it so you will see a few models of proposed buildings that were never built e.g. three towers on what is now the Chancery development off High Street and a different version of Princes Wharf. My images date from a few years ago when we had the models in at the School being cleaned over summer. It would be interesting to know where this model is now.
    Bill McKay.


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